What are your legal rights if you purchased or leased a lemon in California? Are you entitled to have your vehicle replaced? Are you entitled to receive financial compensation? Do you have to submit your claim to arbitration? Here is a complete guide to everything you need to know.
When you buy or lease a new vehicle in California, your vehicle is subject to a number of different warranties. Many of these warranties relate to the quality and functionality of the various components of your vehicle. If it turns out that your vehicle is defective (i.e. it cannot be driven safely or does not operate as it is supposed to), you can seek to have your vehicle repaired for free under the terms of your warranty.
But, what if this isn’t enough? What if, despite numerous attempts, the dealership cannot repair your vehicle? This is where California’s lemon law comes into play.
Under California’s lemon law, formally known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, individuals and eligible small businesses that buy or lease new vehicles can seek to have their vehicles repurchased or replaced if they turn out to have irreparable defects. This is what is commonly referred to as a “lemon.” California’s lemon law states not only that your vehicle’s manufacturer must repurchase or replace your vehicle if you bought or leased a lemon, but that you get to choose between these two remedies. If you have a lemon law claim, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act entitles you to “incidental damages” as well, which include all of the various out-of-pocket costs you incur as a result of dealing with your lemon.
The Lemon Law Process
While the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act is designed to protect consumers, filing a successful lemon law claim is still a difficult process. Auto manufacturers and their defense lawyers fight vigorously against lemon law claims; and, in order to secure an adequate remedy, you must be prepared to deal with the challenges that come your way. At The Bickel Law Firm, Inc., our practice is devoted exclusively to representing clients under California’s lemon law. We handle claims against all leading auto manufacturers, and our lawyers work vigilantly to successfully assert our clients’ rights as efficiently as possible.
Learn more about the lemon law process in California.
How to File a Lemon Law Case
Protecting your rights under California’s lemon law starts well before you file a formal claim. You must handle the repair (or attempted repair) process for your vehicle appropriately, and you must ensure that you have the documentation necessary to support your claim once you file. There are other steps you need to take as well, and hiring an experienced California lemon law attorney is the best way to ensure that your rights are secure.
Learn more: How to File a Lemon Law Case.
California Lemon Law FAQs
Dealing with a lemon is frustrating enough on its own. If the dealership tries to give you the runaround, finally getting your hands on a properly-functioning vehicle can seem like a never-ending saga. Fortunately, California’s lemon law protects you; and, once you engage our firm to represent you, the end will finally be in sight.
While our attorneys will handle your lemon law claim for you, it can still be helpful for you to learn more about how the law works and what it takes for a vehicle to qualify as a “lemon.” In particular, it can be helpful to make sure you know the answers to questions such as:
- What Is California’s Lemon Law?
- What Is Considered a "Lemon Car" in California?
- How Does a Car Qualify Under California's Lemon Law?
- How Long Can You File a Lemon Law Claim in California?
- What Should You Do If You Have a Lemon Car?
- Should You Consider Arbitration?
- Why Hire an Experienced California Lemon Law Attorney?
Learn the answers to these questions in our California Lemon Law FAQs.
Resolving Your California Lemon Law Claim
Under California’s lemon law, there are three primary ways that a claim can be resolved. These are: (i) a negotiated settlement, (ii) an arbitration award, and (iii) a verdict in court.
Most lemon law claims settle. If your claim meets the requirements of California’s lemon law and you present your claim effectively, there is a good chance that you will be able to achieve a favorable outcome without the need to initiate formal legal proceedings. Since the lemon law requires manufacturers to pay successful claimants’ legal fees and court costs, the longer a manufacturer drags out a claim, the more costly it can become. If you present a strong claim and it is clear to the manufacturer that the law protects you, your claim could be over fairly quickly.
Of course, not all lemon law claims settle. In some cases, there may be a bona fide dispute as to whether a claimant is entitled to restitution or a replacement vehicle under the statute. Or, the claimant and the manufacturer may reach a stalemate over what constitutes adequate restitution and additional compensation for incidental damages. Whatever the issue may be, if an early settlement is no an option, then you, as the claimant get to choose between filing a lawsuit and seeking relief through arbitration.
If you file for arbitration and your claim is successful, you can accept the arbitration panel’s decision and your vehicle’s manufacturer will have no more than 30 days to comply with the terms of the award. However, if you lose, you can reject the panel’s decision and take your case to court.
If you take your case to court (either in lieu of pursuing arbitration or after receiving an unfavorably arbitration decision), a judge or jury will determine whether you are entitled to relief under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. The decision rendered in court is final, subject to both parties’ right to file an appeal.
When choosing between arbitration and litigation, there are various factors you will want to consider. One of these factors is that, if you lose in arbitration and then seek legal remedies in court, the manufacturer will generally be able to introduce the arbitration panel’s decision as evidence in your case. While this will not matter if you negotiate a settlement (and it is not uncommon for lemon law claims to settle even after an unfavorable arbitration award), if your claim goes to trial, the fact-finder will be able to see that the arbitration panel decided against you.
Repurchase or Replace? Choosing Your Remedy Under California’s Lemon Law
When you file a lemon law claim in California, you have a choice: Do you want to request a replacement vehicle? Or, do you want to have the dealership repurchase your vehicle and provide restitution so that you can purchase a different vehicle elsewhere?
If you choose the replacement option, the manufacturer must provide you with a vehicle that is “substantially identical to the vehicle replaced.” Your replacement vehicle must also come with all of the standard manufacturer’s warranties. Additionally, the manufacturer must pay any “sales or use tax, license fees, registration fees, and other official fees” that apply to your new vehicle acquisition.
If you choose to have your vehicle repurchased, the manufacturer is obligated to pay:
“[A]n amount equal to the actual price paid or payable by the buyer, including any charges for transportation and manufacturer-installed options, but excluding nonmanufacturer items installed by a dealer or the buyer, and including any collateral charges such as sales or use tax, license fees, registration fees, and other official fees.”
With both options, the manufacturer is also liable for your “incidental damages,” which include:
- Repair costs
- Towing costs
- Rental car costs
- Any other out-of-pocket costs you incur
Whether you choose repurchase or replacement, the manufacturer will be entitled to deduct, “an amount directly attributable to use by the buyer of the replaced vehicle prior to the time the buyer first delivered the vehicle to the manufacturer or distributor, or its authorized service and repair facility for correction of the problem that gave rise to the nonconformity.” This boils down to a mileage offset. The amount to be deducted will be calculated by multiplying your original purchase price by the number of miles you drove your vehicle before the issue arose, and then dividing this number by 120,000.
Which option should you choose? The decision is yours; and, while you cannot foresee whether you will get another lemon, some practical considerations to think about include:
- How many months, or how many miles, are left on your new vehicle warranty?
- How was your experience with the dealership? Were they helpful, or did they add to the frustration of dealing with your lemon?
- Did you like your vehicle, aside from the recurring defect? Does the manufacturer offer another model that you might like better? Do you like any vehicles available from other manufacturers?
- Does your vehicle have a history of defect issues and complaints (one place to look is gov)?
Choosing Legal Representation for Your California Lemon Law Claim
So, you think you have a lemon, and you are ready to assert your rights under California’s lemon law. How do you choose the law firm you want representing you?
1. Exclusive Focus on Lemon Law Claims
The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act is a complicated statute, and there are decades of case law that govern lemon law claims in California. In order to represent you effectively, your lawyer must have in-depth knowledge of all of the complex legal issues that apply to your claim. At The Bickel Law Firm, Inc., we exclusively represent vehicle purchasers and lessees in California lemon law claims against vehicle manufacturers. We know the law, and we know how to use it to your advantage.
2. A Team of Experienced Attorneys
In order to handle a large volume of lemon law claims efficiently, a law firm must have the necessary resources. This includes a team of experienced attorneys. At The Bickel Law Firm, Inc., our team of lawyers and legal staff works closely with our clients to keep them informed and secure favorable results in their cases as quickly as possible, and we take pride using our collective strength to protect our clients.
3. No Up-Front or Hourly Fees
When you hire a lawyer to represent you, you should not be asked to pay a consultation fee or retainer, and you should never receive a bill for hourly legal fees. Under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, manufacturers are required to pay successful claimants’ legal fees and court costs; and, if your case involves additional contingent fees, these fees will be calculated as a portion of your financial award.
4. Statewide Practice
If your lemon law claim goes to arbitration or trial, you need your attorneys to be available wherever your case may take them. It may also be necessary to work with local experts who can inspect your vehicle and provide testimony in support of your claim. As a result, it is strongly to your benefit to choose a law firm with a statewide practice. At The Bickel Law Firm, Inc., we have successfully represented clients throughout California; and, while much of our work is done remotely, our lawyers can travel to your local jurisdiction if necessary.
5. Commitment to Success
Securing a successful result in a California lemon law case requires persistence. As a result, you need a legal team that is prepared to deal with the manufacturer’s and its lawyers’ defense tactics, and that is steadfastly committed to achieving the outcome you deserve. At The Bickel Law Firm, Inc., we do what it takes to win, and we never back down, no matter what.
Get Started With a Free Initial Consultation
If you believe you have a claim under California’s lemon law, or if you are not sure and would like to find out, we invite you to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation about your legal rights. To schedule an appointment with one of our experienced lemon lawyers, please call 888-800-1983 or submit your case online today.